The St John Ambulance team is busy 24/7 supporting the 14,000 resident community of Port Hedland in Western Australia, and covering an area almost as big as Tasmania.
“We do an average of 9 call-outs a day, making it one of the busiest in the region,” said Janelle Cockayne, a Volunteer Ambulance Officer and one of the Volunteer Development Officer’s for the service.
There are six full time career paramedics in Port Hedland, supported by 56 community volunteers.
For a long time, staff have operated out of a very old building with limited space, no proper bedrooms, restricted training areas, unreliable air-conditioning, and inadequate storage for medical supplies.
Recently BHP helped fund an Emergency Support Vehicle, to cater for mass casualty situations and contributed half the money needed to construct a $5 million new Port Hedland Ambulance Sub-centre.
“We used to have space for only three ambulances but now we can house eight. The Sub-centre also has three times the storage space for medical supplies because we need a much larger inventory than a city station due to our location,” she said.
“Plus we have great first aid training rooms, offices and quiet rooms so people can get some decent rest and that is important in attracting volunteers” she said.
“The service plays a very important role in our community, and when people see BHP putting money into essential services like ambulances and a new headquarters, it’s a really big thing,” she said.
While many people fly in and fly out of Port Hedland on shift work, Janelle, the Paramedics and her volunteering friends are in town for the long haul.
“Many of my volunteer ambulance friends have been living in the town for many years, despite most of us originally turning up for a year or so!”
Janelle says part of the town’s attraction is the strong sense of community, and that’s due to Port Hedland’s isolated location.
“My kids were virtually born and bred at the station,” Janelle explained.
“I used to feed them and they’d sleep in their stroller in the station manager’s office when they were little.
“That sort of acceptance and support builds a very strong sense of family and you know there are people you can lean on if you need too.”
“Giving back to the community is one of the main reasons why I volunteer and it’s a big motivator for most people. So, when you can see local businesses putting back into the community too it means a lot to people, because it directly benefits people when they need help most.”